Before You Sweep…

We underestimate it… We see it, but we don’t realize its power… We are a part of the joy it brings but its strength and significance sometimes gets swept aside and placed into the shadows of our adult lives…
But to our younger generation, it’s these things that really, really matter…the unspoken bonds that we often take for granted, and the hurt that is felt when ties are severed… We can unintentionally deepen the pain through not paying attention, and through not acknowledging the importance of the connection that existed in the first place…
Three weeks ago, I knew it was time. My old girl, Arabella, nestled her head against my legs, and I knew that her pain had become too great…It was a silent communication- she was ready to leave us…
Arabella had always been ‘Rachel’s dog’- patted, loved and doted upon, led around the garden, kissed and cuddled, and even ‘vet-vetted’ on many occasions-frequently allowing herself to be bandaged up by my aspiring four year old veterinarian – in the name of the friendship they shared… And now, the time had come to prepare Rachel for the inevitable…
I sat the kids down and explained to them that Arabella was too sore and that no amount of ‘mootie’ was going to make her better. We needed to do what was most kind for her because we loved her. And that was to put her to sleep. I explained that it meant that she wouldn’t be with us anymore, her heart would stop beating and we would miss her very much…
They understood… and although a deep sadness washed over my little girl, I could see that she had accepted what was best for her beloved oversized hound.
When it comes to loss and death, very often, as adults, we fear being overcome by the discomfort of the emotional sadness, or because we don’t see the significance, we like to move on as quickly as possible. We too easily forget that many children form powerful attachment relationships with animals, and for some, animals are even best friends. These losses, the intense sadness, needs to be processed, and as parents we need to facilitate the space for this to happen.
Many of the children and teens I work with, recall with great detail and overwhelming emotion, a previously owned pet. Children grieve…. lost bonds, lost connections…. their grief does not always present in the same way as ours, and as a result, it’s too easy to neglect the importance of the attachments they create.
When it feels like no one understands, our trusted pets are silently there. When the school day has been rough, there’s a furry body to lean on, sometimes even to cry on. When it’s all too much, these companions calm us…. Animals, dogs in particular, are often noted to be life’s best therapists- always there, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving and accepting, and no matter how we have left them, they are there with wagging tails to welcome our return. There is a powerful strength in the bond shared between animals and children…. a deep connection, too easily underestimated…
We scheduled an appointment for later that Saturday morning. I asked Rachel what she wanted to do and how she wanted to say goodbye… She sat at the dining room table and drew Arabella a picture- some detailed lines on a page, that represented her interpretation of a dog skeleton. She added a bright sun and some birds in the sky. My little girl was processing the inevitable loss in her own way… Rachel
and I spent a few precious hours sitting with Arabella, reading stories to her (Rachel’s idea), and just being comforted by her presence… Even in Arabella’s last hours, it was she who comforted us…Although Rachel often said, ‘Mom, I don’t want Arabella to die’, I knew she understood there was no other way. I let her know that we were all sad, it was normal to cry and to feel ……
The time came. Our vet was incredible. Whilst Arabella lay on her mattress in the back of the bakkie, he gently and compassionately explained to the children what he was going to do. He let us all sit closely to her, as he injected our big old girl. Arabella snuggled her head into my husband, with the children and me around her, and with silent tears leaving all of our cheeks damp, she peacefully bounded across the rainbow bridge.
As we drove away sombrely, we spoke about our loss and the life that had been lived. We reflected on our heartache, and the void that would be left.
Rachel told me often over the next few days how sad she was feeling, how much she missed Arabella and that she wished she didn’t have to die. We spoke about what we would do with her ashes, and all the ways in which we would remember our biggest gangliest family member. I let her speak, be sad, and grieve, and acknowledged the hole Arabella had left…
We can’t sweep sadness of loss and grief away with promises of ice-creams and other void-filling items…When we lose anything we love, when our children are in the dark space of grief, we need to be aware of not letting our own need to continue in the busyness of life and to avoid uncomfortable emotions, minimize the importance of allowing space for them to be sad. What they need from us is to recognise and to normalize the pain and to sit alongside them in it…..
Our household will feel the loss of our four legged clumsy family member for a while yet. We will talk about her, laugh about her, perhaps shed a tear for her….there has been no forgetting, there has been no pretending…. and with that, has come healing….
Let your children feel, let them express… Acknowledge the strength of the bond, and celebrate the life that was lived.
No matter the hollow space, the loss, the grief….When we allow ourselves to move in and recognize the darkness alongside our children instead of ignoring the heavy shadows around us, they will find the strength to pull themselves towards the light…

With motherly love
Naomi

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